[governance] Effects of lack of electricity on the digital divide

Ronda Hauben ronda.netizen at gmail.com
Sun Jul 22 19:26:34 EDT 2007

Thanks for sending this article to the list. It just seems that the job of
connecting Rawanda and other African
countries to the Internet and building infrastructure is a scientific
problem, not a commercial problem.
The problems described remind me of the kinds of problems (though different)
that the pioneers building
the Internet faced, and they figured out how to solve them as they were
focusing on a scientific
approach and using the technology they had developed to help them solve the

At the UN there was a presentation by Professor Juma, a Harvard Professor
originally from Kenya,
talking about how Rwanda is a prototype for others. He didn't mention the
problems being encountered
so it is good to see the real situation described.

After the WSIS meeting in Tunisia I met a government official from Tanzania
who described the problems
of spreading connectivity and how the commercial efforts were to make a
profit not to spread the net.
So its not that the commercial should not be part of the situation dealing
with the problem, but putting
the solution in their hands is probably not going to solve the problems in


On 7/22/07, yehudakatz at mailinator.com <yehudakatz at mailinator.com> wrote:
> Brilliant post Kwasi - excellent
> I also found this article interesting:
> Africa, mostly offline, struggles to get on the Internet
> By Ron Nixon
> Re: The International Herald Tribune | www.iht.com
> http://www.iht.com/bin/print.php?id=6765556
> Sunday, July 22, 2007
> On a muggy day in Kigali in 2003, some of the highest-ranking officials in
> the
> Rwandan government, including President Paul Kagame, flanked an American
> businessman, Greg Wyler, as he boldly described how he could help turn
> their
> small country into a hub of Internet activity.
> Wyler, an executive based in Boston who made his fortune during the
> technology
> boom, said he would lace Rwanda with fiber optic cables, connecting
> schools,
> government institutions and homes with low-cost, high-speed Internet
> service.
> Until that point, Wyler, 37, had never set foot in Africa - he was invited
> by a
> Rwandan government official he had met at a wedding. Wyler never expected
> to
> start a business there; he simply wanted to try to help the war-torn
> country.
> Even so, Wyler's company, Terracom, was granted a contract to connect 300
> schools to the Internet. Later, the company would buy 99 percent of the
> shares
> in Rwandatel, the national telecommunications company, for $20 million.
> But after nearly four years, most of the benefits hailed by him and his
> company
> have failed to materialize, Rwandan officials say. "The bottom line is
> that he
> promised many things and didn't deliver," Albert Butare, the Rwandan
> telecommunications minister, said.
> Wyler says he sees things differently and that he and the Rwandan
> officials
> will probably never agree on why their joint venture has been so slow to
> get
> off the ground. But Terracom's tale is more than a story about a business
> dispute in Rwanda. It is also emblematic of what can happen when good
> intentions run into the technical, political and business realities of
> Africa.
> Attempts to bring affordable high-speed Internet service to the masses
> have
> made little headway on the continent. Less than 4 percent of the African
> population is connected to the Web. Most subscribers are in North African
> countries and the republic of South Africa.
> A lack of infrastructure is the biggest problem. In many countries, years
> of
> civil conflict destroyed communications networks, and continuing political
> instability deters governments or companies from investing in new systems.
> E-mail messages and phone calls sent from some African countries have to
> be
> routed through Britain, or even the United States, increasing expenses and
> delivery times. About 75 percent of African Internet traffic is routed
> this way
> and costs African countries billions of extra dollars each year that they
> would
> not incur if their infrastructure was up to date.
> "Most African governments haven't paid much attention to their
> infrastructure,"
> said Vincent Oria, an associate professor of computer science at the New
> Jersey
> Institute of Technology who is from the Ivory Coast. "In places where
> hunger,
> AIDS and poverty are rampant, they didn't see it as critical until now."
> Rwandan officials were especially interested in wiring schools, seeing
> information technology as crucial to modernizing the rural economy.
> But as of mid-July, only one-third of the 300 schools covered in
> Terracom's
> contract had high-speed Internet service. All 300 were supposed to have
> been
> connected by 2006.
> Overall, less than 1 percent of the population is connected to the
> Internet.
> Rwandan officials say Terracom seems more interested in tapping the more
> lucrative cellphone market than in being an Internet service provider.
> In November, Wyler stepped down as chief executive of Terracom, saying he
> wanted to spend more time with his family. He still serves on the board.
> Wyler said by telephone from his Boston home that he would not address the
> government's criticism. He said he did not want to be quoted as saying
> anything
> negative. But he said there were some things he had not anticipated,
> particularly the technical challenges of linking the Rwandan Internet
> network
> to the rest of the world.
> "Terracom has done everything it can, " he said. "Because of the technical
> challenges, the Internet service is as good as it's going to get. But
> given
> what we started from, I still think we have accomplished a lot. In the
> beginning there were a few people with Internet service. Now there are
> thousands."
> The Rwandan government had hoped that the number of Web surfers would be
> much
> higher by now. Rwanda has little industry, and its infrastructure is still
> being rebuilt after the 1994 genocide in which 800,000 to a million people
> were
> killed.
> "We have almost no natural resources and no seaports in Rwanda, which
> leaves us
> only with trying to become a knowledge-based society," said Romain
> Murenzi, the
> Rwandan minister of science, technology and scientific research.
> Wyler said he had not been involved in Terracom for nearly 10 months and
> could
> not comment on its current operations.
> Christopher Lundh, Terracom's new chief executive and a former executive
> of
> Gateway Communications in London, has worked in several African countries.
> He
> now lives and works full time in Rwanda, and many government officials say
> Terracom's performance has improved under his leadership.
> Lundh said there were problems with the company's operations in the past
> but
> that the Rwandan government was responsible for some of the delays.
> "We would get to schools that don't even have electricity or computers,"
> he
> said. "That is not our fault."
> In addition, he said that many of the complaints about the company
> concerned
> things beyond its ability to control. Getting adequate bandwidth remains a
> constant challenge. Like most telecommunications companies in eastern
> Africa,
> Terracom depends on satellites for Internet service. Satellite service is
> much
> slower than cable because of delays in the signals. Satellites also
> provide
> less bandwidth than cable.
> Adding to the problem is that most of the satellites serving Africa were
> launched nearly 20 years ago and are aging or going out of commission. A
> satellite set to go into service last year blew up on the launching pad.
> Power
> is also an issue, as intermittent power failures in Rwanda hamper efforts
> to
> provide a steady electricity source.
> Despite these limitations and earlier setbacks, Lundh said Terracom was
> moving
> ahead with plans to give Rwanda the most advanced Internet infrastructure
> in
> Africa. A nationwide wireless connection should begin operating near
> year-end,
> he said.
> Magnus K. Mazimpaka contributed reporting from Rwanda.
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Netizens: On the History and Impact of Usenet and the Internet

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